Sunday, January 4, 2009

Sprechen Sie Englisch?

Welcome to Berlin!

I know you've all been anxiously waiting to hear about our trip to Berlin and other things that are going on in our Irish lives.
Where do I begin?

Well, Berlin was AWESOME! Though, things started out pretty stressful at the airport. You know those people running through the terminals, luggage flying and knocking people down on the way to catch the flight that they're late for? Ya, that was us. Being that we were flying with Ryanair - a really cheap European airline where seats are first come, first served - there was a huge line-up of people at the gate when we arrived and they hadn't even started boarding yet. Thank God for that! Missing a flight is my worst fear - airports stress me out, man.

When we arrived in Berlin, we took a half hour train into the city, passing Christmas markets and carnivals and ferris wheels that were all lit up along the way. We were so excited to be there! The minute we got off the train, we immediately headed to the nearest market for some Bratwurst. Mmmmm, was it ever good. That wouldn't be the only sausage we had that week either! We went to our hostel and got settled in. The hostel was amazing - everything was new and funky and clean and cheaper than our hostel in Dublin (that doesn’t say much though, everything anywhere is cheaper than Dublin). They even had a rooftop terrace and bar overlooking the city and the TV Tower!

Nighttime in Berlin

I must say, Matt was a real trooper for going to all of the Christmas markets with me. Every day we'd stumble upon new markets and wander around them. A lot of them are the same in that they have the standard things that they sell - market food like Bratwurst, potato pancakes and Gluwein, wooden toys and ornaments, hats, scarves and lots of knit things, and chocolate galore! Some markets were very carnival-like with rides and games, some had skating rinks, others had stages with dancers and performances. Even if they were all pretty much the same, I still loved being there with all of the markety smells and food and lights and holiday spirit – it was the only place that actually felt like Christmas! It was the perfect time of year to be in Berlin.

Balloons anyone?

Lights, lights, lights...I like taking pictures of lights

This is one of the more popular markets where we had to pay 1 Euro to get in

Matt "enjoying" some Gluhwein - hot spicy wine served at the markets

I liked it just as much as Matt did!

Angels on stilts at the Christmas market

Christmas market at the Sony Centre

We went on a pubcrawl the Saturday night that we were there. One of our roommates from the hostel came along with us and it was a BLAST! Berlin nightlife is crazy. It’s not like at home when you get kicked out of the bars by 2:00am. If it’s 2:00am in a Berlin nightclub, the party’s just getting started! Lots of bars are open until 8:00am the next morning and advertise themselves as the “best place to watch the sun rise!” We only made it ‘til 3:00. The pubcrawl guides took us to some pretty cool bars and clubs that we would have never found on our own – sketchy, underground joints that all seemed to be located below train tracks. It was really cool and loads of fun! Getting back to our hostel afterwards was quite the adventure. I was trying to make it back in time to have a webcam chat with all of my family who were celebrating Christmas in Grand Bend, but we somehow got on the wrong train, which led to another wrong train, and another wrong train. By the time 5:00am rolled around, we made it home and my family had already left Grand Bend. What a bummer. For anyone visiting Berlin in the near future, an important note: If a train is coming in one direction and you hop on, it doesn’t necessarily CONTINUE in that same direction! Ugh.

For the next few days, we did a lot of sightseeing and museum browsing. We finally got the hang of the transportation system and bought week-long passes that allowed us to use trains, subways, streetcars, and buses as much as we wanted. We definitely got our money’s worth out of it, as we used public transport to get everywhere. Even after our train incident, I must admit, those Germans know what they’re doing when it comes to transportation – it was pretty slick.

Alexanderplatz - a large public square and transportation hub in the City Centre

We went to the Neue Nationalgalerie to see the Jeff Koons and Paul Klee exhibitions (Koons was really cool!) We also took in some history at the German History Museum. After a few hours of museums, I finally accepted the fact that I’m just not a “reader of things” at museums. I’ll look at all the pictures and objects, play with the interactive activities, listen to someone telling me something, but I just can’t be bothered to stand there and read everything on the walls. That’s why the 3.5 hour guided walking tour of Berlin that we did was so great. Our tour guide was absolutely amazing and passionate about what he was talking about, which made it so much more interesting to listen to and easy to understand. He took us and a small group on a tour of most of Berlin’s main sites, which you’ll see in the pictures below. The walking tour was one of the best things we did there.

The Neue Nationalgalerie designed by Mies van der Rohe

The Brandenburg Gate - the symbol of Berlin

A Bugatti for Dad

The Holocaust Memorial

The columns get taller and taller as you walk through

The TV Tower on a foggy, misty night

Markets seen from the TV Tower

Part of the Berlin Wall in Potsdamer Platz

Everything there was named Alex. We went to an Alex restaurant where I had some delicious schnitzel!

Matt's restuarant...we didn't eat there.

There were a lot more things that we could have and wanted to do while we were in Berlin, but then I got sick. I spent all of Christmas Eve day in bed with a terrible sore throat, cold, achy body, chills, flu…everything! I thought I had pneumonia and was in serious pain, so walked over to the pharmacy to get some drugs. I tried to decipher the German packages, but the pictures weren’t enough and I really didn’t know what I would be buying or how to take it. I asked everyone in sight if they “Sprechen Sie Englisch?” but no one could help me. I walked to another pharmacy and asked around again, and still no one spoke English. Matt tried to go out again to find me something to ease the pain and came back an hour later with three different flavours of Fisherman’s Friends! Every pharmacy had closed early because it was Christmas Eve, and he found them at a convenient store in the subway station. Better than nothing! That night Matt met some guys from the hostel and went out with them and enjoyed a little bit of live German rap (he said it was hilarious) and I stayed in and watched The Beach on my laptop in bed.

Sections of the Berlin Wall

Wooden toy shop full of clocks

If I knew what all these buildings were, I'd tell ya!

The Adlon Hotel - where Michael Jackson dangled a baby from the balcony!

The interior of the DZ Bank designed by Frank Gehry

Reichstag Dome - a large glass dome with a 360 degree view of Berlin. You can see into the debating chamber of the German Parliament below, reminding politicians that the people are watching, thus symbolizing a democratic Germany (I did learn something on our walking tour!)

Ritter Sport in the vending machines! Matt didn't understand the emotional attachment I have with Ritter Sport - it's a German chocolate bar that my Grandpa used to give me and my sisters. It seems that my Dad is continuing that tradition with my niece Charley...lucky girl!

I managed to get out of bed on Christmas Day and we headed out to go on another walking tour, this time of “Alternative Berlin.”
Unfortunately, they only run the tours if 5 or more people show up, and we were the only ones there. Part of me was relieved because I still wasn’t feeling very well, but now I wish we got to go on the tour to see some cool graffiti and another side of Berlin. I guess we’ll just have to go back!

We were planning on making Christmas dinner at the hostel but nothing was open and we couldn’t get groceries. The only place open was the Jewish museum, so we spent a few hours there, then headed to an Australian restaurant and had chicken, ribs, wings and potatoes for dinner. Talk about an unconventional Christmas! We went to bed early since we had to get up and prepare for the worst flight of my life. My illness turned into a sinus/ear infection, and the pressure changes in the plane caused severe pain and - almost two weeks later - my ears are still plugged. I finally caved and paid the 55 Euro to see a doctor, and I’m now on antibiotics and decongestants that don’t seem to be helping. One day I’ll get better. It seems that ever since I’ve started travelling I’ve been sick. The same thing happened to my sister, Nicole, which she refers to as the “One Month Dorm Disease.” It’s true though, I blame it on having to sleep in the same room as 5 other people every night. When we wake up in our hostel in the morning, the windows are covered with condensation. All I can think about is how that’s everyone’s breath and body heat dripping above my head. Groooooss! But back to Berlin. All in all, we had a fantastic trip. Matt absolutely loved the city and didn’t want to leave. If we had authorisation to work in Germany, I doubt we would have ever come back to Dublin!

But here we are, in Dublin, trying to find work again and just scraping by. A week ago, Matt and I moved out of the hostel into a flat that we share with two French girls who are going to school here. It’s cheaper to rent a flat and we decided it was time to say goodbye to hostel life for a bit. I went out, stocked up on cleaning supplies, and spent a good two hours scrubbing our new bathroom. When our roomies weren’t home, I gave the kitchen a good scrub-down too. Matt said they might be offended by me cleaning their mess, but I was willing to risk it. The place isn’t even that bad as far as cleanliness goes, and it’s a fairly new building, but I just don’t like living in other people’s dirt. I had to buy pillows, sheets, and a duvet too – all of which feel like we’re sleeping on paper napkins, but hey, all of that only cost 27 Euro! So far our flat has a few minor annoyances. For one, we don’t have internet. Ok, that’s a major annoyance – Matt and I love our internet! Also, in an effort to save money on utility bills, our roommates don’t turn on the heat or water heater. The water heater only goes on when you have to shower. And you have to know two hours in advance that you are having a shower, because that’s how long it takes to heat up the water. They set their alarm two hours before they have to get up in the morning to turn it on, then go back to bed. Tell me that’s not crazy?! I haven’t had a good night’s sleep since we’ve been here, but I’m hoping once we find work and have more of a routine, things will be better. The cool part about it is that we live above a pub! Imagine looking back in 20 years and reminiscing about the time that you lived above a pub in Ireland – pretty cool, I’d say! Though, don't be surprised if we're evicted and back in the hostel tomorrow. We were relying on Matt's bank draft to pay rent and the deposit, but it has taken over a month and he still hasn't seen the money. Today is the day we talk to the landlord...wish us luck!

Well, that’s our last month in a nutshell. Now we’re back to the usual – job hunting and handing out resumes. I have heaps more pictures from Berlin to add to the blog, and I wanted to have them up for this post, but this whole not having internet thing is making it difficult to upload them all. I'll try to add more soon!